Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye and I will follow you.” Elijah answered, “Go back! Have I done anything to you?” Elisha left him, and taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them; he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh and gave it to his people to eat. Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant.
So begins the first reading for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Our Gospel continues the theme.
To another he said, “Follow me.” He replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
Jesus answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. You, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Another said, “I will follow you, Kyrie, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”
To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:59-62
If there is one thing the Semitic people are fond of, it is hyperbole. Jesus really does not mean literally giving up everything, does he? Let us look at that first reading. Elisha literally translate into English as, “My God is Joshua.” “My God is Jesus.” He asks for the same thing the people in the Gospel are asking. Elijah, “My God is THE NAME, says, “Go back! Have I done anything to you?” This is not permission to kiss father and mother goodbye. The passage does not tell us Elisha did any such thing. It only says he god Elijah’s message. “If you want to go back, go back. The prophet has done nothing for you. Go back and stay there. I will find someone else.”
Elisha then returns boils the flesh of the oxen with the instruments, gives it to the people, and they eat. Elisha then follows “My God is THE NAME.
Luke 18 has the passage, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Peter then says, “We gave up our possessions and followed you.” Jesus then says, “There is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come.” Luke 18 then tells us, “We are going up to Jerusalem and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.
There is no hyperbole here. Jesus talks of giving it all away and following him, just as Elisha did. Jesus is like Forest Gump out on the highway who say, “I think I will go home now.” St. Peter is like the man who says, “Now what are we going to do?” If we dismiss Jesus’ words as hyperbole, we set ourselves up like Peter, and the man in Forest Gump. We have not counted the cost.We have argued to ourselves that the stated cost is not the real one. God will give us what we want at discount in the end.
Elisha is the son of Shaphat/judgment, of the mist of the untilled ground. Abel-meholah also translates as, “Mist of the chorus singers.” Elisha the son of Shaphat, plows, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. There are twelve tribes in Erez Israel. Elisha is the leader of those oxen, tribes. Our first reading tells us to separate ourselves from the common herd of humankind, the untilled ground of the common herd, and be special, different. We are no longer to be among the common herd of chorus singers who come to Mass every Sunday, sing the songs, take the host and go home. Our first reading tells us to be like Elisha, who say, “My God is Jesus, and then give up everything we have and give it to the poor, as Elisha does.
In our Gospel, Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead. What separates tilled ground from tilled ground? Tilled ground is aerated. From the Latin, it is spiritual. Tilled ground is soft and pliable. Untilled ground is hard. Untilled ground is as the chorus singers, who are more interested in singing the right song, following the rules for the sake of the rules. Jesus says of them, “let them bury their own dead.” Jesus calls us to be tilled ground. He calls us to be soft, pliable, kind to each other. He calls us to meet our neighbor where he is at, and lead him to Elijah, my God is THE NAME, through being the son of Tisbit, short for Teshuvah, repentance. That is what Jesus requires, and he means giving it all away, not living some middle class life style, and thinking of how good we are because we could live lifestyles that are more lavish.